As soon as Nintendo announced that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 would be releasing on 29th July 2022 rather than the initially revealed time-frame of September, my faith in Monolith Soft as a top tier 2nd party developer proved once again to be more than warranted. The gaming industry consistently sees disappointing delays due to over ambition, and it’s not very often when you see a AAA game pushed forward rather than backwards, while also managing to keep that necessary ambition intact. It’s been almost five years since Xenoblade Chronicles received its well-deserved sequel on Nintendo Switch, finally and rightfully establishing Xenoblade as a core Nintendo franchise by being the first game in the series to sell over a million units. Due to the sequel’s undoubted success, not only did we eventually get a proper Switch remake of the Wii original, but unique DLC story-based expansions were also produced for both games, “Torna – The Golden Country” and “Future Connected” respectively, further expanding the already vast world of Xenoblade. Now that the threequel is almost here, let’s take a look at what Nintendo and Monolith Soft have been cooking up for the anticipated third entry in the fan-favorite series.
New characters, new story, same world, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 takes place following the events of its predecessors. It begins with the introduction of Noah, one of the game’s main protagonists, in a flashback sequence of him as a young child. He and his friends are joyfully on their way to attend the queen’s anniversary celebration, when suddenly, the world of Aionios freezes in time around him as he watches two mysterious balls of alternate coloured lights collide in the sky. With the scene then abruptly cutting to modern day, we discover the state of anarchy and chaos that their world is in. Noah was literally created for the purpose of war; a weapon of the martial nation Keves designed to vanquish those of the rival martial nation Agnus. When he and a few of his soldier friends stumble across a group of Agnians while on an important yet unclear mission, through a series of spoilery events, they all hesitantly decide to form an alliance and work together to stop a much greater and more dangerous force of power.
Just based on the first chapter of the game alone, the plot that’s being set up feels like it’s going to be very deep and meaningful. Serious and emotional themes of life and death are apparent, with my mind drawing immediate comparisons to philosophical games such as NieR:Automata. I’m intentionally keeping story elements vague for the purpose of this preview, as I believe the best way to go about playing plot-focused games is by diving straight into it as blind as possible.
As already previously confirmed by Nintendo, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is open world, with its large and extensive areas seamlessly connected to one another. There is no shortage of useful items to find, side missions to complete, and enemies of varying difficulty to defeat. The combat is not quite turn-based and not quite real-time, but somewhere in-between, perfecting the already established Xenoblade formula. All of the gameplay mechanics aren’t presented to you at once, but instead, new abilities are learned in a way that feels like part of the story, slowly easing you into the complex and elaborate battle system. For example, you start off by only being able to control one party member, but eventually you’re granted the ability to swap between them as you please during both battle and exploration. The UI is incredibly robust yet still easy to understand, and there are three standard difficulties that are available to you at the start of the game: easy, normal, and hard, so no matter what, you’ll be able to find your footing.
Every character is assigned one of three roles, Attacker, Defender, or Healer, with the role determined by the character’s individual class. As soon as you draw your weapon in front of an enemy, you will consistently deal damage to them by performing an auto-attack, but the real engagement comes in the form of “Arts” and “Talent Arts,” which recharge differently not only based on class, but also whether or not you’re controlling a character that’s of Keves or Agnus. Arts are basic types of moves, like attacks and healing abilities, and Talent Arts are more powerful abilities with a special gauge that must be filled by completing various actions during battle. There are many different Arts and Talent Arts to learn and master for each character, and you’ll need to be strategic with using them while battling some of the more difficult enemies.
Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like too much grinding will be necessary to keep your strength up as you progress through the game. Leveling up your party members is mostly done by defeating enemies and continuing on through the story, but naturally earned bonus EXP allows you to level up even more so at various resting stations that are spread across the world. Although you will level up frequently, thankfully, you won’t constantly be bombarded with level up screens and immersion hindering messages, which is one of my most common pet peeves of this genre.
There is an abundance of quality-of-life features available in Xenoblade Chronicles 3, including auto saves, navigation options, and more, but one of the most notable is that the camera controls are fully customizable in terms of both distance and position. This means the entire game can be played in first-person mode if you desire, making the traversal and combatic experience feel entirely different from the default options. It’s clearly not intended to be played this way however, but it does function surprisingly well, especially for the purpose of exploration. I opted for third-person during my playthrough though, as it gives a more traditional JRPG feel.
On the technical side of things, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is no doubt the best in the series yet. Not only is the art direction fantastic, but it’s executed beautifully too, making for what’s quite possibly the best-looking Nintendo Switch game graphically speaking. It’s very clearly pushing the Switch hardware to its absolute limits without going too overboard. Load times are very snappy, with most of the loading being done in the background during lengthy cutscenes. Framerate is mostly smooth and consistent, which is a step up from Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Everything so far is pointing to the developers over at Monolith Soft being some kind of wizards, but it’s too early to tell for certain, as we haven’t yet gone through the entirety of the game. Keep in mind that the screenshots featured in this article do not do the visuals justice, as the Nintendo Switch greatly compresses images captured directly on the console to save storage space.
If the first couple of chapters are anything to go by, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is looking to be an absolute must-buy Nintendo Switch exclusive JRPG, regardless of whether or not you’ve played the first two entries in the well-renowned trilogy. I think it’s now safe to say more than ever that Nintendo’s majority-stake acquisition of Monolith Soft in 2007 was one of the best decisions the company has made in recent memory. First impressions blew my expectations out of the water, and I cannot wait to continue exploring the world of Aionios.
A copy of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 for preview purposes was provided by Nintendo UK. A full review of the game will be published in due course.